Canberra’s a ‘Stir’ with bright ideas

Emily Allen

Stir – An online platform encouraging CBR youth to view their personal projects as viable careers paths, by providing skills, exposure and financial support.”

An initiative of the Canberra Innovation Network, Stir allows 15 to 30 year olds to upload their project ideas, receive feedback from the community and compete for $15,000 in grant funding to make them happen.

Open to any kind of project, Stir currently has a variety of projects up on the site including not-for-profit ideas, art installations, and computer games with examples including:

  • ARTHOUSE: Connecting spare rooms in houses for artist studio residencies.
  • HACT: An event and online community. We inspire the world’s youth to engage with tech and start-ups.
  • METAWARE: We consult, design & build computing and technology solutions for individuals & small business.
  • The Clean Crew: A different domestic cleaning service for busy full time workers, elderly and other.
  • Cleverbee: Bringing modern connectivity and standards to the essential but unregulated industry of tutors.
  • Personal Trolley: Has gurney folding legs, keep in your boot. Stays at the same height.

With professional support and guidance, the inaugural program will aim to teach applicants to identify and explain key parts of their project, contribute to making it successful and to show that passions can in fact be career paths.

Ahead of their awards presentation and showcase tomorrow night, Emily Allen caught up with one of the founders, Rish Ratnam, to find out a little more about this exciting initiative.

Emily: How did Stir begin?

Rish: Canberra Innovation Network, under the direction of Dr Sarah Pearson (the driver behind Stir, and a huge amount of new innovation projects in Canberra), were looking at work for the youth in Canberra. Trying to identify what problems young people face, what ideas do they have and how do we get them started. Particularly when it comes to pursuing their own careers paths or entrepreneurial and innovation type pursuits.

They initially proposed a competition, and we said rather than going out there and doing something like that, why don’t we actually get a collection of young people together and do a workshop with them and find out what the problems are.

We went out and formed a community of about 30-odd young trendsetters, innovative types, entrepreneurs, people that were sort of representative of Canberra but some of them were a bit more ambitious or outgoing or at least could get into contact and represent people. We formed this community called the SHIFT ONE Crew and with that we ran some co-development type sessions to try and find out what the issues were, what should we tackle first and then we put together a strategy. Really, the SHIFT ONE community, they helped us identify what the needs were and how it is that we should move forward and address them.

We actually put together quite a big strategy. The Canberra Innovation Network was looking for something called an ‘incubator’ which is really like an institution which takes ideas and helps grow them and we said in order to make this happen, we need to start slow and learn our lessons and build up, so we put together this big plan. Stir is really the first part or a larger strategy designed around supporting youth and helping them understand what their thoughts are.

The initiative has been up and running for two months now, what are some of the major milestones you’ve been through so far?

When we first started, we put together this big, grand strategy and then suggested to Canberra Innovation Network this is where you should start, with something like Stir. A crowd-support, micro-grant platform. The real different between this and crowd funding websites, is Stir’s educational value. Myself and Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman we’re the two founders of equal imagination or if you like the consultant agency who guided this. We’re actually academics; we’re teachers at university level, so that’s really the thing that we bring – ‘How do you teach people?’ So we developed to teach; the crowd funding and the grant is sort of our way of getting people to engage with education platforms.

Will there be a follow up or mentoring process of sorts after the recipients are picked, particularly given your backgrounds?

With the 15 projects that win the grant, we’re going to spend the next couple of months working with them very much informally and this is part of our process of not just helping them, but identifying the issues they face when trying to take their projects forward in Canberra.

When you submit a project, it takes you through a multi-step process where it asks you a whole bunch of questions and it gives you a whole bunch of what we call ‘toolkits’ to help you answer those questions. Those questions are about the business aspect of the idea. With part of the SHIFT community, we developed all of the tools and a language so that we could teach business ideas to these people that weren’t business savvy. That’s the first part, where they learn about entrepreneurship type skills and innovation and the second part, if you support any of the projects, you’ll notice that you answer a small set of questions, products or idea validation questions, that way the people that are submitting projects are not only about ‘How do I communicate my project?’ but they’re also learning about ‘How do I receive feedback to help me?’

Were the toolkits put together by industry professionals?

They were done by us. Camilo is a lecturer of entrepreneurship and of innovation at the ANU. I’m a lecturer in mathematics but I do business stuff on the side. We wanted to engage with the language of the SHIFT ONE community, the younger community in Canberra.

Where do you see the initiative going?

We’d like to see it go forward for a second run, we’ve got a larger strategy. On the awards night, I don’t want to reveal too much, but this is the first part of more things to come.

Where does the grant funding come from?

It comes from the ACT Government via the Canberra Innovation Network. The ACT Government has funding for ACT youth projects and the Canberra Innovation Network in a sense administers, prioritises and decides where that goes.

Are your grantees solely selected through public voting?

That’s correct. Even though we are teachers, and we’re perfectly capable at judging these sorts of things, we do it all the time at university level, the Stir project is purely crowd voted.

What are the benefits of this approach?

It comes down to linking what it is that people are doing, with customer validation. That’s one of the big things that we teach all the time in entrepreneurship, you’ve got to actually go out there and make sure that what you’re doing is something that people want. Keeping it as crowd voted is a way of a) making it simple and b) helping people get used to validating their product. Next round we’ll look at having crowd funding mixed in so people can not only support in that they like the idea. but actually throw in some money as well. That’s on the drawing board, we want to keep it simple for the first run so we can learn about what the issues are.

Do you feel as though the popularity of the initiative and the subsequent amount of projects submitted will detract from the voting process on the night, or do you feel as though the popularity will aid?

It makes us feel good and like this has been successful project so far. It has really revealed the large amount of hidden entrepreneurship and hidden projects here in Canberra that you wouldn’t normally see. There is so much opportunity going on.

We really created Stir from the beginning. These are the types of people who don’t usually engage in this type of thing. There’s another thing we run called Innovation ACT which involves all of the major universities in Canberra and even CIT and that’s for people that are going through tertiary education, much more advanced. This is for people doing entrepreneurial things but don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Because it appeals to them, the products that we get up, we don’t usually see them in our endeavours around Canberra. It’s really great for whose doing things, what sorts of things are they doing, what are the needs and what are people excited about.

We have received a lot of good feedback around the toolkits we’ve created. Some of the SHIFT community were actually high school teachers as well so we had their input, we’ve engaged with other teachers and found a lot of positive feedback. They are available online and people can keep using them. We want to keep teaching people and that’s one of the things we’ll be doing.

Interested in other Canberra Innovation Network initiatives?

Here are a few of note:

Entry 29 – A community co-working space in Canberra. Entry 29 is not just a space – it holds many different events and discussions to inspire and inform Canberra innovators and entrepreneurs.

Griffin Accelerator – Stir is for young people who are engaging in entrepreneurial activity, but do not necessarily identify as entrepreneurial. Griffin Accelerator, on the other hand, is for much more advanced entrepreneurs working on growth businesses. Griffin a 3-month program designed to accelerate the development of startup businesses.

Something that isn’t related to the Canberra Innovation Network, but is more relevant for Stir participants, is InnovationACT. InnovationACT is Canberra’s largest startup education program, designed for tertiary students, staff and graduates. It aims to take participants from nothing to being part of a complementary skilled team with a validated venture concept. It allows a broad array of concepts, including tech startups, social ventures and micro-business for example. InnovationACT awards a total of $50k+ each year to teams on the basis of capability, likelihood of continuation, and contribution to the ACT community.

The essentials

What: Stir Awards Night &Showcase
When: Thursday 4 June
Where: CBR Innovation Network, 1 Moore Street, Canberra City
Find Stir on Facebook or visit their website.


Emily Allen

Emily is an arts administrator with a background in writing and music. By day, she works at the ANU School of Music, and by night she moonlights as a contributing writer, the Communications Coordinator and Secretary for MusicACT, and dabbles in freelance marketing, social media and communications for the arts. More about the Author

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